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Left Brained, Right Brained Or Hair Brained? The Case For More Emotion In Public Communication

Left brained, right brained or hair brained? The case for more emotion in public communication. What makes a good panel?
I was discussing this with some colleagues at lunch on Monday. Id just finished moderating three consecutive sessions on womens empowerment and was feeling far too exhausted to form a coherent answer.

After a few days of reflection, here are some thoughts from someone who has chaired a number of panels.

1. Good panels should be tiring (for participants not the audience!) and require far more energy than you might think. To deliver maximum value, participants (and to a lesser extent the moderator) must appreciate that its a performance and they all need to rise to the occasion not only seek to inform their audience but also entertain it.

You are disrespecting your audiences time and patience if you simply turn up, switch on an unrehearsed power point (or worse, read from notes) and deliver a series of bullet pointed slides.
I am not saying this is easy but there are certain things you can do to lift your energy.

Sustained eye contact with the audience, a well modulated voice and the appearance of spontaneity both come from regular practice, first with and eventually without your notes.
This is something that even those who are not comfortable speaking in a second language can work on.

2. Use the right side of your brain. If you want the audience to remember your key message, then you need to appeal to the right side of their brain: that is the bit associated with creativity and empathy. Stories, jokes, strong visuals, picking up on co-panelists points and (dare I say it) disagreeing with them, all help the entertainment value.

This is something we teach in media training, but its 100% applicable to panels as well.

Factor some of these elements in and your audience will probably remember you and, more importantly, what you said.
Brussels is woefully lacking in this sort of dynamic approach. Most panels still focus on left brain communications non-narrative power points, report launches, issue management and educational briefings.

I suspect part of this reason is that the majority of PR or advocacy work that goes on is policy based, rather than consumer facing. But there is still a place for empathy-based communication: decision makers and stakeholders are human beings after all.

3. Good panels take human frailty into account. The average human attention span is pitifully short. Its the moderators job to keep the conversation flowing and to let participants breathe or to rescue them if they get boring or talk for too long.

The format can also be arranged to keep the audience on board. For those of you who watch the BBCs Question Time programme, you will notice that the panel does not sit in a straight line. The chairs and tables are arranged in a half moon shape, so that the participants can all see one another, the presenter David Dimbleby AND the audience. It helps the flow no end.

The best organised panel I have moderated was set up to stimulate debate right from the start. Instead of presentations the organisers had devised seven questions which the audience were given the opportunity to vote on using digi-voting equipment.

As chairman, I then used these results to prompt further questions which I put to the five panel participants.
It worked because the panel were only too keen to engage with the questions and argue with one another straight away.

Furthermore, by asking the audience to vote, the organisers were guaranteeing their attention at key moments throughout the course of the discussion.

There are many such tricks to securing your audiences interest and good will. But these are fragile things and, once lost, can be impossible to recover.

Lindsay Williams is the MD of The Media Coach. With international experience, her London based firm provides expert media training. Go to for more information.

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